January 29, 2009 / 2:54 PM / 10 years ago

"Slumdog" film team defend treatment of slum kids

LOS ANGELES/LONDON (Reuters) - The makers of “Slumdog Millionaire” have defended their treatment of child actors taken from the slums of Mumbai where the rags-to-riches tale, nominated for 10 Oscars, is set.

Danny Boyle, director of Golden Globe award-winning film "Slumdog Millionaire", dances as he arrives for his film's premiere in Mumbai January 22, 2009. REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe

In recent weeks the movie’s success around the world has been overshadowed by objections in India to the name, which some slum dwellers find offensive, its depiction of the lives of impoverished Indians and the treatment of the cast.

Earlier this week Britain’s Daily Telegraph quoted the parents of Rubina Ali and Azharuddin Ismail, who play slum kids Latika and Salim respectively, complaining that their children had not been cared for properly by the movie’s makers.

Ismail’s father told the newspaper that there was no money left and that he knows nothing of a promised trust fund set up for his son. Ali’s father is quoted as saying “the money they paid us is nothing. They should pay more.”

The report said Ali received 500 pounds ($715) for filming and Ismail 1,700 pounds.

Slumdog producer Christian Colson said figures quoted in the British press were inaccurate.

“They were well paid for the work that they did,” he told Reuters in Los Angeles, when asked about the reports.

“The figures quoted in the UK press are inaccurate. The suggestion that they (the children) worked for a year is also inaccurate.

“Immediately after we cast the kids, we put in place a plan of action for their future welfare, over and above the money we paid them; we did that in consultation with their parents.”

He said the producers enrolled them in school for the first time in their lives and set up a fund to pay for the cost of their education, medical emergencies and “basic living costs.”


Danny Boyle, the film’s British director, added:

“What you’ve got to do is somehow try and get a plan that isn’t about the absolute immediate, it’s about the long-term benefit for the kids.

“If we can give them something back, that will benefit them throughout their lives, that’s what you want to achieve.”

Boyle also addressed objections to the film’s name.

Nicholas Almeida, a social activist and slum dweller, has filed a complaint in a local Indian court against Boyle and Colson, saying the film’s title was damaging and discriminating.

“When the British ruled India, they called Indians ‘dogs’. Why do we want to call these poor children ‘dogs’ 60 years after we got independence?” he told Reuters earlier this week.

Also this week protesters, mainly slum dwellers, tore down posters and ransacked a movie theater showing the film in the Bihar state capital Patna.

A ragpicker walks past a billboard of Golden Globe award winning flim 'Slumdog Millionaire' displayed at a bus station in Mumbai, January 29, 2009. REUTERS/Arko Datta

Boyle said protest was “part of the fabric of life in India ... For us, ‘slumdog’ was always a very affectionate term because ... it was a hybrid, a mixture of underdog and rooting for the underdog, and obviously he comes from the slums.”

The director has faced accusations from some parts of the Indian media that his film was voyeuristic “poverty porn.” Boyle has said he was trying to capture Mumbai’s “lust for life.”

Despite the objections, many Indians are celebrating the movie’s commercial and critical success. The cast and crew were awarded for “Global Excellence of the Year” at the NDTV news channel’s Indian of the Year awards.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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